July 04, 2007

North vs. South

No, I'm not referring to the American Civil War, but the divide between the "have" countries and the "have not" countries. Or, if you prefer, the industrialized world and the developing world. Or, the First World and the Third World. (The Second World was the old-style communist countries which, with few exceptions, no longer exist.) Two recent books from my summer reading pile dealt with this divide in similar, yet different, ways. One, the previously mentioned Triumph, details an incredibly devastating nuclear war (a very implausible one, too, in my opinion, but this doesn't detract from the good story) that totally devastates the northern hemisphere. Written in the early 60s, the racial terms used in the novel are sorely dated (for example, the wince-inducing "Negro"), but the story touches on whether the [mostly] surviving southern hemisphere countries -- populated mostly by "brown-skinned peoples" -- would highly resent any surviving Caucasians from the northern hemipshere. There's not much examination of this theory other than a few theories, and my second home of Costa Rica plays a significant role in the book -- they keep tabs via radio on the fourteen survivors holed up in a Connecticut bomb shelter for over two years. The fourteen are seen as "heroes" to others in the world for surviving as long as they did, and eventually rescued and taken to a southern hemisphere haven.

But would they be treated as such?

The second book, Long Voyage Back, presents a much more realistic view, in my opinion. Written in the mid-1980s, its view of nuclear war is incredibly detailed -- both in terms of its obvious destructive effects, but also the cultural/political atmosphere. Survivors from the post-nuke war American mainland gradually make their way south in a sailing vessel, and all along the way realize that they are feared and hated by virtually everyone, especially the "brown-skinned" peoples of the Caribbean and South America. Why? Well, why not? Two overwhelmingly white societies just destroyed the planet ... wouldn't you be just a little resentful, especially since these societies were the most affluent -- some would say exploitive -- in the pre-nuke war era? Revolutions occur throughout the Caribbean where the lower [darker-skinned] castes revolt against the upper [lighter-skinned] castes, while many wealthy whites use what riches they have left to escape to more friendly "havens" -- Australia, New Zealand and ironically (it was the 80s, mind you) apartheid South Africa.

LVB's protagonists finally -- after many months on the seas -- find refuge in the Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America among a few Chilean survivors of a brief Chile-Argentina war, and a dozen or so European war refugees.

One of the differences in political/cultural perceptions between the two novels might be that in Triumph, it is quite clear that a rather mad Russian premier starts the nuclear war against the United States. LVB is very nebulous about its nuke war origins until close to the book's end -- the main character Neil realizes that the Russian H-bombs destroyed almost exclusively American (and allied) cities, not missile or air bases. This is a clear indication of a counter-strike, not a first strike tactic. In other words, the US started the war, which makes Neil realize all the more why he and his fellow travelers were so feared and despised whenever they attempted to make landfall.

In a theme-related novel (excluding the nuke war concept), noted sci-fi author Joe Haldeman describes a near-future Earth where the divide between North and South is even more stratified than it is now. Forever Peace's developed world has a device called a "nanoforge" which can, literally, create almost anything one wants given the proper materials. Want is almost non-existent now in the North, many of its societies now immense welfare-style states. The countries of the South are copiously envious of this technological divide, and they want nanoforges too. Of course, the countries/corporations that control the 'forges only "rent" use of their 'forges to countries at incredible cost and with restrictions. Many Southern countries by now have atomic power, and resort to nuclear terrorism against the North to [hopefully] achieve their demands. The technologically advanced North in this future doesn't even need to send soldiers to battle anymore, however; all fighting is done remotely via telepresence systems and battle robots!

Author Haldeman is a Vietnam veteran who takes a sympathetic view of the South's perceptions, and understandably so. In his greatest novel, The Forever War, (no relation to Forever Peace, by the way) Haldeman blasts the modern-day military-industrial complex through its future counterpart -- a counterpart, which, in order to consolidate its hold on planetary power and keep its economy humming, fabricates stories of alien attacks on Earth interstellar vessels and hence a centuries-long war commences with a benevolent alien race under clandestinely false pretenses.

One interesting side-note: Haldeman, like Triumph author Philip Wylie, MUST have been enamored with that Central American jewel, Costa Rica. In Forever Peace, a decent portion of the book takes place there (military battles, oddly enough, in a country that at present has no army!) while, again, Wylie's fourteen survivors gather most of their post-war information from San Josť, Costa Rica's capital city.

Posted by Hube at July 4, 2007 11:59 AM | TrackBack

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